Correspondence

2525.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 13, 225–228.

[London]

Wednesday Mg. [Postmark: 5 August 1846]

If I had felt, as you pleased to feel yesterday, that it had been “only one hour” which my coming gained—I should richly deserve to find out to-day, as I do fully, what the precise value of such an hour is– But I never act so ungratefully and foolishly– You are more than ever you have been to me; yet at any time I would have gone for the moment’s sight of you,—one moment’s—and returned happy– You never doubt this because I do not waylay you in your walks and rides?– I consider your sisters, and your apprehension for them, and other reasons that make such a step objectionable– Do you remember what I said yesterday,—what I have told myself so often? It is one proof how I love you that I am jealous of any conversation with you which should be too interesting for itself, apart from the joy of your presence—it is better to sit and see you, or hear you, or only say something which, in its insignificance, shall be obviously of no account beside the main and proper delight—as at wine-feasts you get the wine and a plate of thin dry tasteless biscuits—(observe, for instance, that this noble simile was not set before you yesterday—no, my Ba!)

And you did understand also why I left, on that mere chance of danger to you—for it was not, do not think it was only the irksomeness to myself I sought to escape—tho’ that would have been considerable– There is no unstable footing for me in the whole world except just in your house—which is not yours. I ought not to be in that one place—all I could do in any circumstances, (were a meeting to happen) would be wrong, unfortunate. The certainty of misconception would spoil everything—so much of gentleness as is included in gentlemanliness would pass for a very different quality—and the manliness which one observes there too, would look like whatever it is farthest from. This is a real avowal of weakness—because, being in the right, as I dare trust I am, so far as I can see thro’ the involvement, I ought to be able to take my stand upon it,—and so I shall be able, and easily—but not here, just here. With Mr Kenyon, in spite of a few misgivings, I shall know what to say– I can justify myself, if not convince him. Never fancy, dearest, that he has any “clay” in his composition—he may show a drop of water at the heart of the else entire chrystal he is—did you ever see that pretty phænomenon—of which Claudian wrote so prettily? “Non potuit toto mentiri corpore gemmam, sed medio latuit proditor orbe latex”–[1] Our Druids used to make balls for divining out of such all-but-solid gems with the central weakness– I have had them in my hand. Such doubts and fears are infinitely more becoming in him, situated as he is, than their absence would be—if he said, for instance, “oh yes,—I am used to a certain style of living, which of course I do not change for no reason at all; but who doubts that I could do so, without difficulty or regret? I shall hardly bestow any sympathy on what I am sure must be the easiest life in the world!”– One would rather hear an epicure say frankly he cannot conceive how people can end a dinner without Tokay, than ask, over his Tokay (as Sheridan’s Abbot in the Duenna) of the poor starved wistful attendant monk, “Have’nt you the chrystal spring?”[2]

In this case, he is directly looking to your possible undertakings,—not merely expressing his general “remembrances that we are dust”[3] and need gilding—and certainly if in some respects you have, as I believe, less use, fewer uses for money than ordinary women,—you also have an absolute necessity for whatever portion you do require,—such a necessity as they have not, neither. I shall never grieve over the lace handkerchiefs you cannot get—but whatever you possess already in this room of yours, or might possess on the contingency of fresh illness, you must keep,—to your life’s end: I would not take you away on any other condition. Now listen, Ba—nor think for a moment that it puts me to the least, least pain imaginable to talk on this subject, while I know you wholly, as there I am sure I do, and while you too know me, as I also am sure,—we may discuss this, as we do the better, or worse routes to Italy, in the fullest confidence of our aims and desires being absolutely identical,—so that it is but a prize for the ingenuity of either,—a prize from the common stock of our advantage,—whenever a facility is discovered or a difficulty avoided. So listen,—will you, at once, or as soon as practicable, ascertain what you certainly possess—what is quite yours, and in your sole power, to take or to let remain—what will be just as available to you in Italy as in England? I want to know, being “your possible husband”;[4] my notion of the perfection of money arrangements is that of a fairy purse which every day should hold so much, and there an end of trouble– Houses and lands always seem, like a vineyard to a man who wants a draught of wine for present thirst: so tell me how much will be found in the purse—because when we are in Italy or halfway there telling will be superfluous or beyond remedy,—easy remedy at least.

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Since writing the above I have been down stairs—and now return to tell you, a miracle has just happened, which my father, mother & sister are at this minute engaged in admiring—I hear their voices in the garden. We have a fig-tree which I planted four years ago—this year it produced its first fruit, a small fig, “seule et unique”,[5] which is still on the tree—not another fig, ripe or unripe, living or dead, has ever been carried into the garden—yet this morning is discovered in the exact centre of the garden, and parallel with the figtree aforesaid, another indubitable seedling fig-tree,—“how begot, how nourished?”[6] Ipse vidi[7]—what does that prognosticate, my own Siren, my soothsayer and wise lady?

And now, have you been incommoded by the storm,—and thunder, which was loud and lasting here? I thought of you with such thoughts–

And what came of my visit? Was it really your aunt—did my precipitation improve matters? Will Saturday have to fear?

Yesterday I was not in a mood to go quietly home—“for my soul kept up too much light—under my eyelids for the night, and thus I went disquieted”[8] till at Charing Cross it struck me that going home by water (to Greenwich, at least) would be a calmative—so I went on board a steamer—close by me sate three elderly respectable men,—I could not help hearing them talk rationally about the prospects of the planters, the “compensation there is to be in the article of Rum”,—how we “get labour”, which is the main thing, and may defy, with that, Cuba, the Brazils &c[.] One who talked thus, was a fat genial fellow, ending every sentence in a laugh from pure goodnature—his companions somehow got to “the Church”, then, Puseyism,—then Dissent—on all which this personage had his little opinion,—when one friend happened to ask “you think so?”– “I do,” said the other, “and indeed I know it–” “How so?”– “Because it was revealed to me in a vision”. “A … Vision?”– “Yes, a vision”—and so he began to describe it, quite in earnest, but with the selfsame precision and assurance, with which he had been a little before describing the effect of the lightning on an iron steamboat at Woolwich as he witnessed it. In this vision he had seen the devil cast out of himself—which he took for an earnest of God’s purposes for good to the world at large. I thought, “we mad poets,—and this very unpoetical person!”—who had also previously been entering on the momentous question “why I grow fatter than of old, seeing that I eat no more”–

Come, Ba, say, is not this too bad, too far from the line? I may talk this by you,—but write this, away from you,—oh no! Be with me then, dearest, for one moment, for many moments, in spite of the miles, while I kiss your sweetest lips, as now– Beloved!

I am ever your very own–

Oh,—I determine not to go yet to Mrs J.’s—“for reasons”—a phrase which ought to be ready stereotyped.

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50. Wimpole Street.

Postmark: 8NT8 AU5 1846 B.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 246.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 932–935.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. “But it could not imitate that stone in its entirety for at its heart lay a drop of water which betrayed its nature” (Claudius Claudianus, Carminum Minorum Corpusculum, “De Crystallo cui aqua inerat,” XXXV (LVIII), 3–4, trans. Maurice Platnauer).

2. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, The Duenna (1775), III, v.

3. A slight misquotation of Psalm 103:14.

4. A reference to the enclosure with letter 2506.

5. “One and only.” Literally, “alone and unique.”

6. Merchant of Venice, III, 2, 65.

7. “I saw it myself.”

8. RB is purposely misquoting EBB’s “A Vision of Poets,” lines 2–4, to suit the context here.

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